Lockwood Custom Optics at the 2010 Okie-Tex Star Party

I go scopeless, mooch telescope time, and take lots of photos

All images and text Copyright Mike Lockwood, 2010

For this article, I thought I'd mostly let the photos do the talking.  I hope they give you a sense of just what a great experience an event like the Okie-Tex Star Party really is.

This year's attendance set a new record - over 400 people attended, making the field almost appear full, but not overcrowded like some events.  Of course, by the end of the week some of the people are new friends, and are just about the nicest people you could ever meet.

Due to the allergy problems I've had in previous years, I opted to sleep in a bunkhouse.  This helped me a great deal, and I didn't have much trouble with allergies.  I even went the whole star party without a nosebleed, making it one of the most enjoyable years for me.  Of course I also enjoyed seeing people having fun using my optics.

I didn't bring a telescope this year.  After moving, building a new shop, and making quite a few mirrors, I needed a break.  So, I brought eyepieces, a focuser-mounted Paracorr Type 2 (SIPS system), as well as my camera and some lenses.  I enjoyed traveling light, and got to use my optics in telescopes of friends and clients.

Road Trip

The Okie-Tex Star party is about a 17-hour drive for those of us from east central Illinois.  I made the trip with John Pratte, owner of JPAstrocraft, LLC.

On the way, we stopped at a park in Rolla, Kansas, and, being from fairly windy Illinois, I had to snap a photo of this sign.

Kansas wind guage

On the last ~30-mile stretch of road, I scouted spots for a photo of the "Road to Okie-Tex", and on the way home, we stopped and I captured this image.  I think it sums up the drive between Boise City and the star party quite nicely - a whole lot of nothing, and candy to an astronomer's eyes.

"The Road to Okie-Tex"

Superb Instruments

From the similarly flat (although usually wetter) plains of Illinois, we brought John Pratte's 25" F/4, a beautiful telescope, pictured below.  It features John's superb workmanship and my optics.

John Pratte and his fine 25" F/4

On one night we worked the power all the way up to the 3.7mm Ethos, viewing the Trifid Nebula, M20.  The nebula filled the eyepiece, and the detail in the dark lanes was spectacular.  It gave wonderful, sharp views of many other objects as well.  That's what happens when you put good optics in a finely engineered mirror cell and telescope structure.

Of course, I would get in big trouble with Rick if I didn't immediately follow up that fine instrument with one of the newest Starmaster models, the 20" F/3.3 Super-FX.  This telescope features a quartz primary made by me and a secondary tested, and refigured if necessary, by me.  As far as I'm concerned, it is one of the finest Newtonian instruments available on the market today, and certainly the fastest-cooling 20" Newtonian on the market.  We had tremendous fun pushing the power up on lots of planetaries, as well as Jupiter, when the seeing allowed.  Some shadow transits and white spots were particularly memorable.

Here is Willard with his 20" F/3.3 Super-FX, and my shadow is sneaking into the photo!  For this week, we placed the Starlight SIPS system (fixed Paracorr, mounted on the base of the focuser) on this telescope so that Willard didn't ever have to tune the Paracorr when he changed eyepieces.

A 20" F/3.3 Super-FX telescope

Willard is a dilligent observer, and he made the most of his time under the dark skies.  Here he is observing as the winter sky rises over the ridge.

Observing with a 20" F/3.3 Starmaster

A Taste of the Event

On one afternoon I climbed the ridge to the east of Camp Billy Joe, the site of the star party, and hiked south to see if I could get a photo from an interesting perspective, showing the surroundings.  The result was the photo below - I think it captures the location nicely.

Camp Billy Joe and surroundings

The vendor hall also serves as a place to serve meals.  This is the line waiting for dinner one night.  As you can see, while waiting one can browse the vendors' wares as the line advances.

Dinner line in the vendor hall

At the end of the chow line, these ladies will make sure your are fed like a local, with hearty ranch food.

The chow line stops here

So how do you keep a location dark?  You work at it.  These are light shields that will hopefully go up on the relatively few nearby lights, and hopefully more will go up in towns in the vicinity as the word spreads that lights don't have to blind you or pollute the sky in order to let you see what's going on outside your home or business.

Good light shields make good neighbors

So what do you do when you get hungry after observing for several hours?  Opening at 10pm (I think) and closing around 3am (unless it's cloudy), the Cosmic Cafe is an endless source for late-night fuel, in the form of burgers, coffee, and many other great food items.  This is what it looks like from the outside, with astronomer-friendly lighting.

The Cosmic Cafe at night

Speaking of lights, this is my kind of night lighting - an electric light that is OFF silhouetted by the summer Milky Way.

Battle of good and bad light

Camp Billy Joe is a Christian camp, so the cross on the hill above it can be an appealing photographic target.  Too bad it's not the Southern Cross.....

Star trails behind the cross

Finally, I'll end with my signature shot, the Pleaides rising behind the star party mascots, two pink plastic flamingos that watch over the event from atop the east ridge.

Pleaides trails behind the flamingos

I hope to see you and your telescope at a future Okie-Tex Star Party.

Clear, dark skies, warm weather, good friends, some good beverages, and good seeing.

  -Mike Lockwood, Lockwood Custom Optics

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